Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym

January 28, 2010

Run Paleo.

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , , , , — Micah Vandegrift @ 3:40 pm

Many of us don’t run often. At FAHBG a lot of our running exercises are impeded by time constraints and the landscape surrounding the gym (a short strip of road on a slight incline.) When we do run it is usually not pretty. Josh, Mara, Abby and I went out to a local park last weekend and ran a 5K, a first for Abby and I. You can see our times on the Stats page, but generally it was an eye-opening experience. Running is difficult. And you have to be a real specific type of person to “enjoy” it. But, what if there were a way to make running more efficient? To minimize the physical impact and maximize the cardiovascular/muscular benefits? Well, my friends, there may be such a path. Take off your Nike cross trainers and let’s begin.

Two different articles published today, linked below, introduce Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University who proposes that  barefoot could be a better way to run. The basis of his argument is that modern running shoes have conditioned the human body to run with the heel striking the ground, causing shock waves up leg and body with every step. Comparing this style to some subjects in Kenya, who had run barefoot all their lives, Lieberman noticed that the Kenyans “were more likely to land on the front part or ball of the foot, and they adjusted their leg and foot movements so that they landed more gently on the ground.” Running on the front of the foot utilizes a different set of muscles in a different manner meaning it would take effort and re-conditioning to force ones body to do so, but can become a much more enjoyable experience, especially for those who have any ankle, knee or back pain.

Check out the story on NPR with audio, or read it at The Independent. [UPDATE – Video interview HERE.] How about a FAHBG ‘trial run’? Feet-Only February anyone? Irregardless, I know what Abby is getting for Valentine’s Day.

November 18, 2009

Intensity: It’s Not Just Cause We’re Crazy

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Mara @ 7:07 pm

If you have already tasted the CrossFit Koolaid, then you know how we feel about intensity. To say we like it would be an understatement. Perhaps, you think, these crazy people just get off on throwing their bodies around – on the ground, on the rings, under and over weights of various shapes and sizes – and generally looking like a circus gone terribly wrong. Or maybe they just are in so much pain from their contortions that they want to get the hated workout over as quickly as possible.

While both of those factors certainly come into play, there is actually some science behind our madness. It has been documented that high intensity exercise produces more of what we all want – aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, strength, fat-burning, growth hormone production, bone density, and overall hottness – and does so in less time than conventional methods of exercise.

Dr. Izumi Tabata was the first to document the effects of max-effort intensity exercise over low intensity or moderate intensity exercise. Here is what Mark Sisson had to say about it in his post  on tabata sprints:

“Tabata’s findings from a 1996 study on moderate and high-intensity interval training helped legitimize a movement – away from chronic cardio and toward high-intensity workouts. He showed that high-intensity intermittent training actually improves both anaerobic (intensity and muscle building) and aerobic (slower, oxygen consuming) body systems, while aerobic exercise only improves aerobic systems. Of course, these findings would come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever done burpees to exhaustion, or followed a CrossFit WOD.”

Mark is referring to our belief that chronic cardio – spending hours and hours spinning your wheels on an elliptical or pounding away on the concrete at moderate or low intensity – is a poor use of your time and may even be harmful in the long run. Cardio addicts have a hard time hearing that their beloved 6 miles a day is putting unnecessary stress on their joints and producing results that could be equalled or surpassed in 20 minutes with a kettlebell.

So how can you get a taste of this infamous intensity? It’s incredibly easy.

A Tabata workout consists of choosing an exercise that can be done to a maximum effort for a short burst of time – this can be cycling, swimming, rowing, burbees, squats, push-ups, pull-ups, thrusters, or the basic, sprinting – and giving a maximum effort for 20 seconds, then resting for 10 seconds, and then repeating 8 times for a total of 4 minutes. (Note: elliptical machines won’t work because they do not allow a maximum effort.) If you’re adventurous, you can select a series of 3-5 exercises, doing 8 rounds of maximum effort for 20 sec on 10 sec off  for each exercise in succession. The key is the words “maximum effort.” With sprinting, it helps to imagine that a hungry tiger is behind you. Point is: run as fast as you possibly can each time. If you don’t think you can get a workout in 4 minutes, I urge you to try this. Run hard, take only 10 seconds for rest, and if you’re not tired, you should head for the olympics.

If you’re reading this and you don’t already incorporate high intensity exercise, I urge you to give this a try. Just adding this in one day a week – maybe that evening you think you don’t have time to workout – can make a huge difference.

You may look crazy, but it will be worth it.

November 4, 2009

The Efficacy of Exercise: Another Perspective

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Mara @ 3:32 pm

Enter the "fat-burning zone"

Andrew stumbled upon this article on the NY Times’ website today that captured our attention. Micah already wrote one post, but I thought I’d add another, as I had already vented my frustrations in print format.

The article begins, “For some time, researchers have been finding that people who exercise don’t necessarily lose weight.”

It continues, “It is well known physiologically that, while high-intensity exercise demands mostly carbohydrate calories (since carbohydrates can quickly reach the bloodstream and, from there, laboring muscles), low-intensity exercise prompts the body to burn at least some stored fat.”

Their point is that exercise at the intensity they recommend for “fat burning” (low intensity) does not burn enough calories to significantly impact weightloss.

However, what they are referring to as “high intensity” is actually med-high intensity – what we call “chronic cardio“. That is when you are performing aerobic exercise at over 50% of your max but not pushing into the next level where things become anaerobic and you reach your output threshhold. That is how you get the “afterburn” – increased metabolic rate for an extended period after exercise – that this writer says doesn’t exist.

Low level cardio and med-high level cardio are not the only kinds of exercises out there. False dichotomy alert!!! It is such a destructive myth that there is this magical “fat-burning zone” that causes you to burn more fat if you workout at an easy pace than if you work out more intensely. This is how you end up with miles of eliptical machines churned by overweight, frustrated, burnt-out cardio queens.

At least at the end of the article they allow that exercise can change something in people’s metabolic pathways that enables them to keep the fat off. If only they had researched the effects of actual high-intensity anaerobic exercise on metabolic pathways – hello change!

Ultimately, this article starts out with a truth – exercise alone produces only very limited weightloss – but then does a horrible job of researching (not to mention articulating) everything that follows. Diet changes are extremely important, perhaps more important than exercise if your goals are simply to lose fat, but that doesn’t mean that exercise has no impact or that a kind of exercise (maybe not cardio-based???) might show more of an impact.

Furthermore, losing fat should NEVER be anyone’s sole health or fitness goal. Our longevity and other indicators of health increase in proportion to our percentage of lean muscle mass to total weight, so our goal should always be to increase muscle while decreasing fat.

So yes, if you just want to be thin, then stop that cardio and just make your diet tighter than a deadlifter’s bum cheeks. You will probably lose fat. And you will probably be miserable. But if you want to be healthy – strong, energetic, happy, AND thin – then go out for some tabata sprints, lift some heavy weights, AND trim the unsightly edges off your diet.

At least one thing is clear, by either of our standards: chronic cardio is POINTLESS!


October 15, 2009

Getting Stronger – physically and spiritually

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , , , — frandrewrowell @ 9:48 pm

I’m supposed to be working on a sermon for Sunday right now, but I just got back from the soccer pitch and feel I must comment on a realization I had tonight.

I think I might be, after five short months of Crossfit and a major diet change, in the best shape of my life. And my life has been an active one for sure – full of a persistent obsession with pick-up basketball, a college career at Duke and the University of Glasgow where I was a competitive rower (which required a daily 3.5 mile cross country run and a half-stadium finisher in addition to the 5 am water workouts), and three years of competitive cycling at UVA during law school. Even during periods during which I could easily hop on my bike and crank out a century in a morning, I think was in a different, less all-encompassing kind of fitness than I’m in right now. Back then, I had that long, consistent, steady-state, zone 2ish/3ish, 7-hour-slog kind of fitness down pat. Now I’m quicker and stronger than I’ve ever been, at least in my adulthood, capable of sprinting with 16 year olds down a soccer pitch without much fuss, and still capable of managing lengthy rides on a bike in the woods and the road (and don’t get me started on how much better a mountain biker I am becoming as my core strengthens). That myth of the usefulness of a long, zone 2, tons-o’-base-miles workout seems like such foolishness now. I’m not doing long cardio work (this morning’s workout of 5-5-5-5-5 155lbs deadlifts/10 burpees between each set took a whopping 8:48) and yet my cardio performance is soaring. My core is solidifying – I can now do a legitimate handstand on the spot and 10 straight full-hang ring pull-ups, which I reckon a very small percentage of the population can do. That one measly muscle-up of which I dream by January is coming faster than I thought. Oh, and now I can pick up Mac, who’s a fatty.

Andrew and Mac

Andrew and Mac

I’m not writing all of this to brag. I’m just shocked at how fast it seems to be coming along. I arrived in Tallahassee to serve my first church (www.saint-peters.net) on September 1, 2008, a bit flabby and in a lot of L4/L5 back pain from a tough surgery in July of 2008.  Now I’m cleaning and jerking substantial weight, cranking out 100 pushups without too much of an effort, and generally more aware of my body and its growing strength than ever before. In five months!

I do believe one thing to be true – that it has been the diet change that has made the biggest difference. I’ve shed so much silly excess and added so much core muscle mainly by purging my diet of stupid sugar and carb calories and dedicating myself to meats, fruits and veggies. It is amazing what the body can do with the proper fuel with which to restore and build.

Putting on my priestly collar for a second, there’s a much deeper blessing emerging from all of this.  When I sit down before God’s Word in the morning, fresh off of a 6 am session of “Cindy” or “Grace” or “Fran,” a steaming cup of coffee beside me, dwelling in a temple with which I’ve been blessed that is becoming stronger and more poised – it does change my posture before the Word, both literally and spiritually. Maybe that sounds a bit odd, but we aren’t just souls hanging around in useless shells for 80-odd years waiting for the parousia. Rather, we are embodied souls. It is this vessel that I’ve been given. It is within this vessel that I live out a life that is the crucible wherein I sort out my salvation. I’m learning all over again, from the ground up, that I am not trapped in a shell of flesh waiting for something better, but I’m rather blessed with one in which to live for and love God now. I’m not saying that my body doesn’t groan for redemption along with the rest of creation. But I’m doing what I can with that which is clearly flawed, which seems to me to be the proper way to live out the imago Dei within me. And here’s the gift – when my body is rested and healthy and well-fed and growing in strength and not mentally deadened by corn syrup and two pounds of bread, there’s a freshness to God’s Word, there’s a mental sharpness that makes the gift of God’s Word that much more vivid. Do the rest of you feel an intellectual and spiritual acuteness emerging along with those triceps?

The Core Team (the Ellers, the Vandys and me) have sat around my dining room table often these last few months and talked long into the night about how we hope to grow toward the perfection of our spiritual postures before the Lord even as our shoulders round, our backs straighten out, and our quads swell. I think it might be happening by God’s grace. I’d encourage us to pay some attention to it – to ask if we aren’t being transformed by the renewing of our bodies, these bodies which will be at the eschaton remade and reformed into the image of our Redeemer.  I think we are – I think that in a state of strength and health, when creation-care is directed toward our own human form,  our minds and our hearts become less encumbered. We become more readily able to stand boldly and frankly before the Lord (who is, notably, embodied forever) whose call on us, whose Word to us, is sharper than a sword and more gracious than we ever deserve.

Ok, back to a sermon….


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